In 2001, local and international experts said it was too late to eradicate a well-entrenched fire ant infestation. It was at least ten years old, the result of at least two separate incursions and covered around 40,000ha of south-east Queensland, including Archerfield.
Queensland Minister for Agriculture in 2001 Henry Palaszczuk rejected scientific advice to declare that Queensland would eradicate the pest. He knew an eradication program would bring millions of dollars from the Commonwealth and other States and Territory governments into the State. And he knew what to do with it – create hundreds of jobs for the many unemployed people in his electorate. The Chair of the National Fire Ant Eradication Program Steering Committee approved his decision. The program became a cash-cow for Queensland Treasury and every subsequent Queensland Minister for Agriculture and every Chair of the National Fire Ant Eradication Program Steering Committee have followed suit.
In 2001, USA fire ant experts said the best strategy was to tightly contain a well-entrenched infestation by controlling the movement of fire ant carries like soil and mulch out of the infested areas. Minister Palaszczuk rejected that advice because it would look like the State was not confident of eradicating the pest. Instead, he allowed businesses that dealt in fire friendly materials to manage their risk of spreading the pest. Consequently, fire ants have now spread out of control in south-east Queensland and infest over 650,000ha.
USA fire ant experts said in 2001 if the State was going to attempt an eradication effort, the whole of the infested area had to be baited quickly and efficiently four times a year for three years and the only way to do that was by air. Minister Palaszczuk rejected that advice to create a slow, inefficient, accident prone ground force of 400 people to treat fire ants. Auditors said the ground force was the greatest drain on the program’s progress. Consequently, fire ants continue to infest the same areas they infested in 2001 and more.
USA fire ant experts said in 2001 if Queensland neither eradicated fire ants nor contained their spread, which is the situation in Queensland now, the only option left was self-management. That means dumping the costs, risks and responsibility for treating fire ant nests onto residents and property owners, after they have paid $650m for a fire ant eradication program through their taxes. After 20 years, that is where the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program is now.
The fire ant program does not find fire ant nests. 70-80% of new detections are made by the public because the program does not conduct systematic surveillance for fire ants.
The fire ant program is not containing the spread of fire ants. Businesses, residents and property owners in fire ant infested areas are responsible for not moving fire ants off their properties. The program does not conduct systematic compliance checks.
The program is not killing fire ants. The program can no longer treat an ever bit of a fire ant infestation that covers at least 650,000ha. Residents and property owners can either wait weeks for the program to treat fire ant nests on their properties or pay for a private pest manager to do it for them or buy expensive bait and treat the nests themselves and run the risk of getting stung.
Time for a Royal Commission to hold every Queensland Minister for Agriculture and every Chair of the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Steering Committee for the last 20 years to account for the waste of $600+m public money and an out of control fire ant infestation.